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What are some tips for families returning to child care post-pandemic?

As many families’ head back to in-person work in the wake of COVID-19, many children will also head back to their pre-pandemic child care programs and routines. Change in routine and schedule is hard on most people, but can be especially so for young children. And, after several months away from any child care or early childhood education program, the prospect of returning may bring a mix of nerve-wracking emotions for both parents/caregivers and their children. The following tips may help ease your family’s transition back to a ‘normal’ child care routine.

Be Informed

Make sure you understand the current COVID-19 safety precautions and enhanced measures your child care facility has in place. Things like drop-off and pick-up, as well as nap time and meal time routines might be different than you remember. Visitors during the day aren’t allowed in most facilities right now, and your child’s teachers (or even your child) may be wearing masks. Being aware of your child care program’s safety plan often goes a long way in easing grown-up anxiety about the return to pre-pandemic routines. 

Prepare Your Child

Talk about the return to child care openly and often with your child so they know a change is coming. Building expectancy about an upcoming return can help in pushing aside any fears a child may have. This includes visiting the child care facility or school prior to the first day, reaching out to a ‘school’ friend your child knows and enjoys playing with, listening to your child’s concerns, and even reading books about returning to ‘school.’ A few recommendations include The Kissing Hand by Audry Penn, I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas, and Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney. 

Reestablish Routines

In the month and weeks leading up to your child’s return to child care, try to reestablish pre-pandemic child care or ‘school’ routines. This includes setting specific times aside for naps and lunch and putting children to bed earlier. Spending some time apart may also be helpful in the long run as it will provide your child a chance to cope with their feelings when you aren’t there.  For very anxious children, quick errands away from them are a good starting point while you work up to a full day spent with a trusted caregiver or family member. 

Communicate with the Teacher

Provide your child’s teacher and day care staff a heads up when it comes to your child’s fears about returning to child care or school. When staff members know the causes behind certain emotions and behaviors in children, they will be better equipped to help care for your child. Your child’s teacher is also most likely skilled at handling separation anxiety in children and may be able to offer parents advice on further actions they could be taking at home, like providing their children a transitional object—a small, familiar item that may ease separation anxiety and provide a sense of closeness to mom or dad while they’re away. 

Stay Positive

One of the most important things parents and caregivers can do as they approach the return to child care or school is to stay positive. An upbeat attitude and reminders of how much fun your child is going to have during the day will go a long way. Parents often set the tone for their children, so try to model behavior you’d like to see from them. At drop-off, keep your tone light and happy when you’re saying goodbye and don’t linger. Trust that they’ve acclimated once before to their child care program and they will be able to do so again this time around. 

In many stressful life transitions, your calm and confidence can also become your child’s calm and confidence. Focus on the exciting parts of ‘school,’ keep dialogue open with your child and know they will likely adapt back to their pre-pandemic child care routine before long. For more information on COVID-19 and child care facilities, including guidelines for the re-opening of child care facilities, visit www.scchildcare.org.


By ABC Quality Team on August 20, 2021